Holly concluded her presentation with the identification of the ‘Six Planks’ by the Helen Clark Foundation and WSP, “Ultimately what works to reduce loneliness is more frequent and especially more meaningful social interactions with other people. What this looks like differs for everyone depending on culture, family, community, values, and preferences. So, it’s not something decision-makers or planners can easily influence directly. What we can do though is create the conditions that allow meaningful social interactions to flourish.”
Six Planks of an Effective Policy Response to Loneliness:
- Make sure people have enough money
- Close the digital divide
- Help communities do their magic
- Create friendly streets and neighbourhoods
- Prioritise those already lonely
- Invest in frontline mental health services
Getting Future Ready
Survey responses by those attending the Innovation Labs seminar supported the research and outcome results. When asked ‘what does loneliness mean to you?’, answers included words such as sadness, isolation, disconnection, vulnerable, depression and lockdown.
When asked ‘what do you think contributes to loneliness?’, 30% of attendees described lack of social and physical connection, human connection and physical and emotional isolation.
Respondents were also asked how often they stop and socialise around their neighbourhood. 26% said two to three times a week and nine per cent said every day. That’s less than half who socialise on a regular basis.
However, when asked ‘where and when does this happen?’ the majority is when they are active – walking and exercising (20%), at the park (12%), in the front yard/driveway (10%) and nine per cent responded specifically when they walk the dog. Another 10% did their socialising at the local café.
In 2016, 62% (5.7 million) Australian households owned a pet, with the two most common types being dogs (38%) and cats (29%). Around two-thirds of dog and cat owners reported ‘companionship’ as a reason for owning a pet and 60% of owners felt more socially connected.
It’s not surprising then, when we asked our attendees how we can create more friendly neighbourhoods to tackle isolation and loneliness that many offered a solution that involved access to shared park and open spaces, public meeting places and vegetable gardens, active public spaces and street libraries as well as more local shops.
According to Michael Tyrpenou, WSP’s Principal in Social Strategy & Design, “This is where our focus on human-centred design plays a key role in the development of infrastructure. At its core is empathy and understanding – taking a step back and thinking about people first.
“As designers, our role is to understand the needs of communities by finding solutions to better meet these needs, but we are often prone to making assumptions about end users and community members. However, to create great places for our communities to thrive, the design of infrastructure should reflect these diverse needs, culture and experiences of people and place.
“By studying communities and diving deeper into how they live, work and play through qualitative and quantitative research, we can gather evidence to support better decision making in design and engineering,” adds Michael. “With greater understanding, we achieve better outcomes and demystify stereotypes and long held assumptions about people.
“A perfect example of this is in the consideration of young people and their relationship with the built environment. Our job is to understand what is making them feel lonelier than others in society. This could be done through interviews, observation of interaction in public spaces, research into key drivers etcetera. The more we understand, the better we can design with the needs of the users in mind. In this way, our design process can drive social value by understanding the inextricable link between people and places, rather than solely focusing on the infrastructure solution itself.”
What to do When You Feel Lonely
As part of our commitment to helping communities thrive, in 2019 WSP’s Learning & Development team proactively sought internal consultation with our people to gain insight into challenges they faced finding balance across professional delivery, wellbeing and growth. Out of those consultations grew Mindfulness @ Work ([email protected]) and an initiative of [email protected] is Mindful Monday.
Jean Clendinning, WSP Head of Organisational Development explained, “Every Monday our employees receive a Mindful Monday guide and guided meditation. Feedback from colleagues led also to the creation of a podcast for those who prefer to listen and we have now made it available outside of the firm, so our clients, stakeholders and community members can benefit from it as well here.
“These tools include useful tips and practices for work and at home to embed mindfulness into the everyday and a thought for reflection.
“Given what we have all been through this year, Mindful Monday is useful to combatting loneliness as well as other stresses.”
For more information on Designing Out Loneliness, contact Michael Tyrpenou, WSP Principal in Social Strategy & Design.